China envoy invites Italian MPs to Xinjiang
Italian lawmakers should personally visit China's remote Xinjiang region to check whether the local Muslim Uyghur minority is really suffering "genocide", China's ambassador to Rome suggested on Wednesday.
Li Junhua was speaking at a pre-arranged hearing of MPs that came amid rising tensions between Western nations and China over Beijing's human rights record - tensions which had earlier seen him summoned to the foreign ministry.
"I invite you to go to Xinjiang personally... see the reality, and understand whether there is really a genocide, if the Uyghurs have in the last 20 years really seen a genocide," he told the foreign affairs committee of parliament's lower house.
"Whenever you want to go let me know, tell the embassy so that we can organise it," Li added.
Rights groups say at least one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang, where authorities are also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.
China has strongly denied the allegations, saying training programmes, work schemes and better education have helped stamp out extremism in the northwestern region and raise income.
Since 2019, China says it has invited foreign diplomats to visit Xinjiang, but an EU delegation that year claimed the people they met were speaking from a script, while another planned trip by EU ambassadors has this month stalled.
On Monday the EU, Britain and Canada blacklisted four former and current officials from Xinjiang accused of cracking down on the Uyghurs, and the United States took similar action.
China reacted by issuing entry bans for 10 Europeans, prompting Italy, France, Germany and other EU governments to call in their local Chinese ambassadors to complain.
During the meeting with Li, Deputy Foreign Minister Marina Sereni highlighted Italy's solidarity with all those affected by the "unacceptable" Chinese sanctions, the Italian foreign ministry said.
Speaking to MPs, Li argued that China was "forced to react" to hostile action. "If only the EU can impose sanctions on China and China cannot do the same, do we then have a fair, equal relationship?" he said.